– Retreat day two

The draft of “The Work Hands Do” grew by 1,716 words today. I feel like I’m coming to the end of it, like maybe tomorrow I could verify some facts and finish this version, of which this section is part:

There’s a stigma to lice, and I’m not sure what’s at the root of it. After all, the head lice epidemic largely affects school age children, six to twelve million a year, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control. We’re not, as a culture, afraid to discuss other school age illnesses, like asthma and food allergies, so why head lice? Head lice are not sexually transmitted, although pubic lice are, and perhaps the two conflate in the public’s imagination. Body lice are prevalent among the homeless, so head lice, too, may be associated with poverty and poor hygiene.

Maybe that’s it: lice are dirty, whether you’re talking about grime or sleaziness. If contagions are preventable – haven’t we all increased our attention to hand-washing in the last several years? – then a head full of lice is an outward sign of poor fastidiousness and moral failure.

I had lice at least once, during one of the several times my children seemed to be farming them on their heads. At first, the itching seemed sympathetic. I’d comb squirming lice from hair for hours, absorbed in my task and mesmerized by scurrying creatures, and later as I lay in bed and tried to go to sleep, my head felt as though its surface was crawling with microscopic feet.

One day, though, after I finished spitting out toothpaste water into the bathroom sink, I raised my head, glanced at myself in the mirror, and caught a glimpse of a louse skating along one of the hair strands that brush across my forehead. I leaned closer and saw it dip down into the hair, out of sight. Visual confirmation of what I had suspected made me relieved and squeamish at once.

It was late, so I went to work, where I did not tell my officemate about the louse sighting. I decided, simply and inconsiderately, that I did not want to deal with unanticipated consequences. Are omissions lies? Not always, but, in this case, yes.

During a break, I went into Metaphor Yarns in nearby Shelburne Falls, because I had to. I met the proprietor, Meta (pronounced Meetah) Nisbet, who told me about a wonderful series of books by Sally Melville and then realized she was out of the very one I wanted. I mentioned that I had stumbled across Shelburne Falls years ago, when we were driving back from MASS MoCA with the kids and simply had to stop somewhere, and we discovered her town and the magical Bridge of Flowers. She asked if we had caught The Knitting Machine when it was at the museum, and I said no, so she told me about cranes, giant knitting needles, and a giant flag.

What could I do, but go to YouTube and look for it? “The Knitting Machine,” by artist David Cole, is straightforward yet weirdly phallic, and I think it’s meant to be. See what you think:

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